Thelanis in Play: Curses

Last week I wrote about Thelanis and the Fey. This week I’m posting a few shorter pieces about how to use Thelanis in an Eberron campaign. Today’s topic: Curses!

Curses often figure prominently in Faerie stories. The search for a cure may be a driving force in a campaign, or the curse could simply be a burden a character has to bear, something that marks them as an extraordinary individual. Consider a few ways that a curse can work into a story.

  • Ancestral Guilt. A character could be born cursed due to the fault of an ancestor. In Sleeping Beauty the princess is cursed because her parents insult a faerie patron. In the Ulster Cycle Macha curses all the men of Ulster for the actions of their king.
  • Personal Backstory. A curse could be something a character has earned through their own misdeeds, while still being something that is part of a backstory as opposed to happening in play. Your rogue stole from the Tomb of the Forgotten King and the curse has haunted you ever since.
  • A Fey WrongedOne aspect of faerie stories is that power isn’t always consistent. A nymph might have the standard statistics provided by the Monster Manual – being a relatively minor spirit, not an archfey – and still have the power to curse someone who scorns her love. This is especially true if adventurers travel into Thelanis itself. The plane itself is a magical place, and the people who break its rules can suffer consequences.
  • The Price. A curse that afflicts a player character could be the consequence of a negotiated bargain: the character willingly accepts a curse in exchange for a service or goods. This could be part of a backstory – the price of a warlock’s Fey Pact – or it could be part of a campaign, where an archfey offers her assistance provided someone will give up their fame, their heart or their voice. More often than not, fey are more interested in intangible things than in material goods, and it’s part of the unnatural logic of Thelanis that the nymph can offer you something in exchange for your ability to love.

Choosing to have a player character cursed from the start of the game may seem like a strange decision, but it’s something that can give an adventurer immediate purpose: What do you need to do to lift this curse of poverty? The best curses don’t affect combat or prevent the character from being an effective adventurer; instead, they shape story, which is what Thelanis is about. Beyond this, a GM might choose to provide a corresponding benefit to a character who willingly takes on a curse. Perhaps the Forgotten King has cursed you with poverty… but you still have the mysterious key you took from his tomb, and some day you may find the door that it opens. Or perhaps your line has ties to two fey sisters; one has always favored you, while the other cursed you out of jealousy. You have to bear the curse, but your patron may come to you in your darkest times to offer advice or assistance.

The spell Bestow Curse gives examples of curses with concrete effects, and you can certainly have a wronged fey lay such a curse on an enemy. However, those curses are severe mechanical penalties and not something you’d casually take as a ongoing handicap. As I said above, the best fey curses don’t prevent a character from being effective at what they do: instead, they shape story. They are extremely meaningful to the individual, but not crippling. Consider the following…

  • Upcoming Doom. The character will sicken and die when they reach a certain age. Three generations of their ancestors have fallen prey to the curse, and they only have one year to find the answer.
  • Infamy. No one remembers any heroic deeds the character accomplishes. They will be held responsible for all of their misdeeds, but anything good they do will be attributed to someone else (quite possibly other members of the adventuring party).
  • Poverty. All gold, platinum, or gems the character touches disappears within one hour, transported away to fill the coffers of the wronged fey.
  • Loneliness. The character will never find love. The more they love someone, the less the target of their affection will feel for them.
  • Suspicion. A more severe take on Infamy, the character will by default be blamed when things go wrong. People can’t explain it – that character just seems like the kind of person who would be up to something.
  • Cloud of Misfortune. The character themselves doesn’t suffer, but bad things happen to the people they care about. This is primarily aimed at NPCs. If they start to frequent a tavern, it will burn down. Their horse breaks its leg. Their family farm suffers a bad harvest. They should always feel concerned about getting too attached to anyone… because what will happen if they do?

Looking to Infamy or Poverty, as described other PCs can mitigate the effects; the cursed character can’t touch gold, so someone else has to handle all transactions. It’s not the end of the world, as long as the other players aren’t jerks about it. But if the cursed character is a rogue who longs for personal wealth, it’s a curse to them. Likewise, shifted fame or lost love is only an issue if love and fame are things the character wants. They won’t stop you from saving a village from marauders; you’ll just have to heave a sigh when the grateful villagers heap their gratitude on everyone but you.

In any case, the usual purpose of having a curse is to drive the story in a direction: How can the curse be broken? Is it about righting a wrong committed by an ancestor? Earning the gratitude of the fey you angered? Simply finding a holy person whose power is great enough to override the will of the Fey? Or if it’s the price of your warlock pact, can you find a patron willing to grant you power on better terms?

As with many of the previous topics, the primary purpose of curses is to enhance a story. Yes, you defeated that evil dryad… but now you have to deal with her dying curse. Not all players will enjoy such things, but with the right group a curse can be a great way to explore how characters deal with adversity.

Share your thoughts, questions, and ideas below. And check out the previous posts on artifacts and manifest zones!

10 thoughts on “Thelanis in Play: Curses

  1. Great job Keith! I gonna use it 🙂

    1) Could someway a bard be almost a cleric or a warlock of thelanis, channeling the power of stories or being granted of the power of telling stories?

    2) Do you think that a Valenar with infamy curse would worthly honor his patron, or his action would fade into nothing?

    3) There are some tales of Christian Andersen on little women born and living inside a nut or an apple. I always loved that image, someway poetic and melancholic. How would you use it in a game related to Thelanis? Could it be almost as an intelligent item or artifact?

    • Could someway a bard be almost a cleric or a warlock of thelanis, channeling the power of stories or being granted of the power of telling stories?

      I’ll come back to this at the end of the week when I’m doing a final Thelanis Q&A, but yes, absolutely.

      Do you think that a Valenar with infamy curse would worthly honor his patron, or his action would fade into nothing?

      Personally, I’d say that the action counts and supports his ancestor, but other Tairnadal wouldn’t recognize it and would say that he’s bringing shame on his line. Same for a cleric: their deity likely recognizes their actions, but other mortal priests & their church won’t.

      There are some tales of Christian Andersen on little women born and living inside a nut or an apple. I always loved that image, someway poetic and melancholic. How would you use it in a game related to Thelanis? Could it be almost as an intelligent item or artifact?

      Absolutely! It’s a great idea for an intelligent artifact. I’d say that there’s a faerie realm inside the nut. Any time the player “activates” it, they speak with a designated speaker of the realm. It could be something where that provides a skill bonus or proficiency, or perhaps they can detect magic, scrying, etc. But I’d definitely play it up in a number of ways. The player who holds it could be the designated GUARDIAN OF THE REALM (and among other things, only he can contact the speaker in the realm) – and other people could want it! Time might pass at a different rate inside the nut, so the speakers might change from day to day. And as the PC builds up their connection to the realm, they could perhaps develop the ability to reach the realm itself – either in a simple way initially, where it acts like a Glove of Storing (only holding one object) to eventually being able to bring the entire party into the realm.

      In one campaign I was in, we had an object sort of like this. Owning it technically made the authorized owner the ruler of the realm – which would mean that Archfey would respect the owner as being an honorary archfey, even if they’re a mortal with no powers.

      • What do you think is the “price” (following the idea that every fairy artifact has a price)?

        I love your idea, but I’d like to give a melancholic flavour to it. Maybe the realm is even trapped, or doomed, or their story is anyway to be defensless. In the wrong hands the “portable realm” would just become the harem of a hobgoblin and maybe it already happened in the past.

        • What do you think is the “price” (following the idea that every fairy artifact has a price)?

          As you suggest, the price is the responsibility that comes with it. There could be many other people or beings who want it – perhaps a wizard or artificer could use it to power an eldritch machine, or an archfey wants to add it to their realm, or as you say, someone just wants to abuse its inhabitants. So protecting it makes you enemies. One could add spice to that by saying that someone you care about is in the realm. A weird possibility for an elf, eladrin, half-elf or gnome: your distant ancestors live in the nut-realm. So you’re carrying around your family, and their fate is literally in the palm of your hand.

  2. Speacking of curses, doom and “realm of stories”, do you see any tie between Thelanis and the prophecy?

    Another interesting point is: why all’ of the stories of Thelanis looks based on “lesser races tales”? Why don’t we see Dragon-fairies, giant-fairies or even, maybe, demon-fairies? Don’t there races have stories or they don’t influenze Thelanis for some reason?

    • Speacking of curses, doom and “realm of stories”, do you see any tie between Thelanis and the prophecy?

      Personally, no. The point of the stories of Thelanis is that they are iconic and don’t change often. The Prophecy is a living thing that DOES change. Further, the point of the stories of Thelanis is that they aren’t actually about real people or things that actually happened – while the Prophecy is absolutely about real people and things that will happen.

      why all’ of the stories of Thelanis looks based on “lesser races tales”? Why don’t we see Dragon-fairies, giant-fairies or even, maybe, demon-fairies? Don’t there races have stories or they don’t influenze Thelanis for some reason?

      All sorts of answers here.

      1. Rather than asking “Why doesn’t race X influence the stories of Thelanis”, you could ask “Why isn’t race X influenced BY the stories of Thelanis?” This is why it’s vital that the stories of Thelanis AREN’T ABOUT REAL PEOPLE OR MYTHOLOGY, and that we can’t actually say where the story came from – because there’s every possibility that the story BEGAN in Thelanis and we only have it in Eberron because it leaked through.

      2. Many of the stories of Thelanis aren’t tied to one race; they are iconic stories that are shared by many, the same way that many cultures on Earth have some sort of Deluge story. The details may be slightly different, but this is where you have the point that different races/cultures may perceive the Fey in different ways; to dragons, they might look like Dragonborn.

      3. Who says there aren’t realms in Thelanis that are all about dragon or giant stories? Again, Thelanis is another level of reality and it’s POTENTIALLY INFINITE. When Xu’sasar the drow goes to Thelanis in The Gates of Night she encounters the Ghost Scorpion. If she hadn’t been there, it either wouldn’t have been there at all or wouldn’t have manifested as a scorpion. If you want to see dragon stories, go with a dragon.

      4. Meanwhile, demons are right out because they are immortals. Immortals are creatures of one plane. You can argue that Thelanis can’t influence them because they are so tightly bound to Eberron or that they can’t influence Thelanis because they’re so tightly bound to Eberron, but either way, demons are of one world.

  3. I can see the story of an archfey that falls in love for a Dragon. And start dooming mortals for fullfilling the profecy for her lover in a way a Dragon of the chamber couldn’t do.

    Or a fey a steal or ask as a price the destiny of a pc. It’s literally a slice of profecy that is now in Thelanis, in the hands of an archfey

    Or the tale of a Dragon in love for a fey … si much power, but still a mortal creature, whilst the fey doesn’t age

  4. Another possibility for adding mechanics to Curses would be to steal the conditions system from Chronicles of Darkness and tie it to action points. Chronicles is a horror game, but wary PCs are unlikely to fulfill classic horror tropes like wandering off alone because everyone knows not to split the party. Their fix is to give a mechanical reward to taking actions that might be detrimental. For example, if a PC catches a glimpse of something unnatural, they may gain the spooked condition. The condition doesn’t have any mechanical effect, but it represents the PC’s mind always wandering back to what they saw. If they do something to come to terms with their encounter that could be detrimental to the group, such as staying up all night to research instead of preparing spells or wandering off alone to get clarity, they lose the condition and get a Beat, which is later traded in for experience in CofD.

    If I were to use this with curses in Eberron, here’s what I’d do. Each curse represents a persistent condition, which can only be removed by breaking the curse. The curse may or may not have a mechanical effect, but even if it does, the story impact is more important. Whenever the curse causes a significant inconvenience, the PC gets a Beat. Every two beats they collect can be traded in to regenerate one action point.

    Here are some example curse conditions from the ones that Keith suggested above.

    Curse of Poverty
    All gold, platinum, or gems the character touches disappears within one hour, transported away to fill the coffers of the wronged fey.
    Beat: Whenever the character’s poverty becomes a significant inconvenience that others cannot help her resolve, take a Beat.

    Curse of Loneliness
    The character will never find love. The more they love someone, the less the target of their affection will feel for them.
    Beat: Whenever the object of the character’s affection rejects her, take a beat.

    Curse of Infamy
    No one remembers any heroic deeds the character accomplishes. They will be held responsible for all of their misdeeds, but anything good they do will be attributed to someone else (quite possibly other members of the adventuring party).
    Beat: Whenever the character suffers a significant setback because no one can remember her deeds, take a beat.

  5. Mr Baker,

    I’ve a player of mine who is an Archfey Warlock who serves the Queen of Air and Darkness, essentially a serial-numbers-filed-off version of Dresden Files’ Mab. Now the Queen of Air and Darkness is opposed equally by her sister, the Queen of Light and Earth, or Titania. Would the QoAD’s influence on the PC’s life cause or create an enmity with an equal and opposite recurring character? My mind conjures up a Light domain Cleric of Dol Arrah to counter the Fey Pact Warlock. A faerie story that could become a quest could be something like “When Mab Stole Titania’s Sun” becoming the player taking the rival’s holy symbol, by accident or intentionally.

    I’m running a faerie forest quest for the group as a whole. Your articles are helping me change the hag boss’ motivations from kidnapping the Lhazaar Prince to ruin the town’s fortunes again to kidnapping the Prince away from his bride as part of the hag’s betrayed lover story. Thanks.

    • Would the QoAD’s influence on the PC’s life cause or create an enmity with an equal and opposite recurring character?

      Sounds good to me!

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